Ah, the Sun shines golden on these times, where one can experience the whole world without leaving the streets of Meridian--for the gates are thrown open, and the world comes to us! And yet, as I walked among the markets, I heard a question on the air again. What to make of the Banuk, these stoic, silent northern hunters? These men and women of the ice?
Unfortunately for my investigations, Banuk outlanders seldom remain in Meridian long enough for exhaustive study--it is believed their cold blood does not take well to the heat. If I was to seek this knowledge, I would have to undergo the ordeal of taking up travel pack and quill, and journeying to their homeland. And so it came to be that I spent a miserable time living among the Banuk in frigid Ban-Ur.
Though the Banuk speak of their territory in reverent tones, put plainly it is the most uncomfortable place in the world. There is beauty--soaring glaciers of jeweled hues, billows of steam that erupt from the earth, whirling auroras in the skies above--yes, yes, but the novelty quickly passes and the bone-freezing chill remains. It is a country of the Moon, for in the day the Sun is reduced to a needle's eye through the grey, and in the night, the Moon rises four times the width.
There is no welcome, not in the land nor from its people. Though I lived among one of the 'weraks'--something like a group of families, but without the civility of a noble house--each member must prove that they possess the will to survive alone. They seek to always be challenged, whether at the jaws of a machine or simply in their daily existence. I tried to explain my position: that a Carja faces a challenge, devises a solution, and then with the challenge overcome can live in contentment.
This concept horrified them. It was made clear that when I expected to sleep, I must dig out my own hollow in the snow for my tent; when I expected to eat, I must hunt food myself. I hid my disappointment--after all, I had participated in a Hunting Trial or two in my time--and accepted. On the third morning I was able to bring down a rabbit, much like those seen in the plains, but with a downy snow-coat.
Upon presenting my prize to the werak, I received only blank stares, until one indicated I must skin and prepare it. Reader, I will spare you the details. The experience nearly changed me to eat only maize-bread forever more.
I had barely finished my gory portion before the Banuk set off on a machine hunt with their shaman, a man with machine bindings sown into his very skin. (Perhaps another challenge, to decency.) He claimed to sense the machine spirits close by, and sure enough the hunters and I followed tracks in the snow to a Grazer herd. The Banuk made short work of them with their spears, and struck with a curious desire to prove myself, I threw myself into stripping a fallen machine for parts.
Instead of praise for my initiative, I was subjected to the shaman's cursing and wailing, and hauled back to camp by a sullen hunter. Eventually, she explained that the machine spirits must be thanked for the gift of a successful hunt before any parts are harvested. Truly, I was despairing of the shifting wiles of Banuk culture, and longed for the certainty of the Sun's guidance!
That night, mercifully my last, my companions and another werak gathered under a pitiless clear sky to exchange songs--their way of recording history. Some understand the glyphs, but choose not to use them, asking "What is a song without voices?" (By this point I knew better than to answer.) My deeds warranted a whole verse in the song of my companions, but from what I could make out, much was lost in the translation. Still, there was laughter enough, and many promised to leave me a Banuk farewell mark for our time together.
I parted ways with the werak not far from the High Bloom, and set about climbing back down to Dawn's Sentinel, and with it Sun-blessed civilization. As for the farewell marks, I saw no such thing when I packed my wetly frozen belongings. Another Banuk mystery, perhaps, and my advice to you, dear reader, is to let these people keep their mysteries to themselves.